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Cairns Along the Way

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How often have my hikes in wild places been aided by rock cairns someone assembled to mark the way? Maybe the cairn was only three stones piled atop one other. Maybe it was a mini-tower carefully crafted over time. But no matter the size, a cairn can keep you on the trail, alert you to a new direction, or simply suggest you’re still moving along the path you’d hoped to follow.

Six months have passed since my last column. I trust the respite has been good for Trish Gannon and The River Journal. I know it has been good for me. And, in my faith walk across half a year, the trail has been marked by cairns, markers that have aided my spiritual journey.

Last fall, the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of over 340 denominations in 110 countries, asserted boldly, “Victims of climate change are the new face of the poor, the widow and the stranger that are especially loved and cared for by God (Deuteronomy 10:17-18). When creation is threatened in this way, churches are called to speak out and act as an expression of their commitment to life, justice and peace.”

For Christmas, my wife gifted me with another work by Bill McKibben, environmental leader, writer, and sometimes Methodist Sunday School teacher. In “The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job, and the Scale of Creation,” the author calls us to humility in the face of Creation and to wake up to our destructive tendencies toward that Creation.

In the depths of winter, I snuggled in warm covers with our 6-year-old grandson and 3-year-old granddaughter. The children were listening attentively and taking in the pictures of the marvelous “Wump World” by Bill Peet. One illustrated page shared images of off-worlders landing on the bountiful land of the gentle Wumps. “These were the Pollutians from the Planet Pollutus. They had left their worn out planet to start a new life in a new world.” What world am I and my actions leaving for my grandchildren? In the decade of the 2060s, when they are my age now, how dramatically will their lives be touched by climate change and what actions can I take now to ameliorate the impact on them and those they love?

And across the months, the Washington State Department of Ecology courageously outlined the scope of its future Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed coal export terminal at Longview on the Columbia River. The EIS will take into account coal dust, diesel particulate, water and air quality issues along the route from Montana, Idaho, into Washington, as well as the impact on our region of that coal’s combustion (CO2 and mercury) in Chinese power plants.

My spiritual journey is a hike to an unseen destination. The route is sometimes smooth and sometimes very rocky. There are switchbacks and occasional descents before the trail pitches up again. And, in my humanness, I sometimes stop to catch my breath before heading out again. I rejoice, however, that along the way there are cairns which guide my feet. Some revealed through scripture or wisdom literature. Some revealed by prophetic voices of religious or secular leaders. Some shared with me by the people I love and hold most dear, no matter their age. 

The cairns bring me back to the trail when I have wandered. They guide me in the journey toward deeper relationship with God and a gentler relationship with all that inhabit our Earth.  Simply put, it is the hike of a lifetime, and it continues.

How goes your journey? And, the cairns along the way?

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Author info

Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

Tagged as:

climate change, Garys Faith Walk, coal trains, cairns, mileposts, respite, Bill McKibben

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